• Sun
  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 7:41pm
NewsHong Kong
HEALTH CARE

Private hospital's hefty bill leaves patient gasping

Doctor agrees to slash charges after woman objects to paying

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 4:43am

When Bobbie-Ann Poulton went to the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital last year to stitch a gash in her foot, the bill came as a shock.

The charges for the 30-minute procedure - including suturing for eight stitches and other services - added up to HK$10,655.

"They did not tell me the expected fee. If they had warned me of the price I would definitely not have had it done," she told the South China Morning Post.

Complaints like these have put the spotlight on what critics say is a lack of transparency in charging at private hospitals, most of which do not provide a full list of charges for procedures.

A review by the Post found that most private hospitals do not provide comprehensive price information for simple procedures even upon inquiry.

Private health care may face reform soon. Last October, the health minister formed a steering committee to review their operations, and it is set to submit a report within a year.

Poulton, who cut her foot on a broken bottle while camping at Sai Wan two days earlier, refused to pay the bill and was further "gobsmacked" when the doctor offered to reduce it if she agreed to settle it immediately.

"OK, OK I'll change your bill to HK$6,000 if you leave now," she quoted the doctor as saying. "I was gobsmacked. This professional doctor had attempted to drop the price and bribe me to stop causing a fuss."

OK I'll change your bill to HK$6,000 if you leave now

The bill included HK$8,500 for suturing, HK$700 for an urgent consultation and HK$550 for the X-ray.

The hospital said staff at the registration desk had reminded Poulton before the consultation that she should ask the doctor about the fees before treatment. It was not its policy to adjust fees, but the staff would help remedy any dispute, a spokesman said.

Poulton also complained that she should have been charged HK$400 for the consultation instead of the HK$700 out-of-hours charge. The hospital said bleeding wounds were considered urgent and were charged at HK$700. It said the patient had paid HK$100 and the rest was still being sought.

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This article is now closed to comments

oxymoron19
Allow me to make a generalization. Chinese are extreme opportunists that exploit loopholes in people and the law to maximize their profits in the expense of others without leaving a shred of ethics that keeps their conscience in check. In a money mongering society such as Hong Kong, I would think most people who enroll in medical schools are money driven more than having a genuine heart to serve people in needs. Without compassion and empathy, a doctor is just another businessman, some ruthless and some heartless and some being indifferent to their patients. The pathetic incident discussed in this article is the result of the weak and feeble programs of ethics provided in local med schools combined with the cultural repertoire of greed. Integrity is a rare commodity in HK. FYI, I am 100% Chinese.
rongeo
Some doctors are merely rip-off artists!
mercedes2233
If they announced their fees ahead of time, at least patients would have a chance to consider whether or not to use their services.
islemount
Exactly. It's symptomatic of the greed that is rotting this city from the inside out.
gkuhl
If you are too poor to pay for proper medical treatment, go to a public hospital, a butcher or just die. This is Hong Kong and proud to be world's freest economy.
oxymoron19
Not sure where you were raised but you sure have some serious ethical issues.
honger
Dear Ms Poulton,
Bravo! I suggest you test them by not settling the bill!!
tubbataha
Two incidents both from Adventist, a friends son dislocated a shoulder playing school sport and went to Adventist, while being examined the shoulder went back into place, so they were surprised to get a hefty bill including aneasthetist and operating theatre fees ! Explanation - they might have been needed so were on standby - and you are insured so why worry !
Second, against my preference I was persuaded to transfer my wife from Cannosa to Adventist by a doctor because he said the equipment at Canossa was not working(Canossa staff were surprised to hear that) Once at Adventist I was advised I would have to sign a $15,000 deposit, I agreed but was surprised when the credit card slip was made out for $30,000. Explanation - Oh the bill will be far more than that so just sign it.
Medical care should be about best care for patients - not profit.
islemount
What I don't understand is why the insurance companies who are footing the bills for patients with private coverage don't push back? Surely, it is in their financial interests to not pay out $40,000 for a $7000 procedure, because a patient had a private room instead of a ward.
I suspect some collusion and back-office shenanigans are going on.
jimmybabe
Then perhaps she shouldn't have gone to a private hospital in the first place. It's common knowledge private hospital charges are far more expensive than public hospitals, and for very good reasons. The waiting time is shorter, the facilities are more advance, the service is better, etc. she made the wrong choice, didn't ask about the fees, and then refused to pay after the service. Now even a complaint about it. I am absolutely gobsmacked.
HK-Lover
Can the private hospitals explain the rationals behind the nonsense concept to charge for the same medical services different fees depending on the class of room the patient stays in. The same operation can cost you double and more if you stay in a single room instead of a ward.
Why shall the doctor's fee depend on the class of accommodation, they are charged separately anyway.
HK-Explorer
Private hospitals run a very thin line of legal VS illegal. 8 years ago when my wife had a child at a private hospital the Dr. said at lunch that she was OK to check out of the hospital. So we informed the hospital we wanted to check out. The hospital informed us that it would take time for them to gather all the details for the bill and arrange for the release. As it ended up she had to stay 1 extra day and we were charged for that. I am pretty sure private hospitals have records and systems that can check a patient out in minutes. They are either just too busy or they have a directive to keep patients as long as possible to increase revenue. So when I see stiches at HK $10,000 there is no surprise. I just wish I had argued with the hospital and they offered me a discount.
The other one was we were sold a package and assumed that it would be the cost. But when we left just the hospital bill (forget the Dr. Bill) was double the package price. I have no idea what package means if it is not the cost or even the minimal cost.
mrgoodkat
So she got an instant 40% discount just for saying the bill was too high? No further actions needed.
Seems to me that the bill was artificially inflated by that amount.
jackblack323
I think we've gotten a bit off-topic here. Let me add my experience at Adventist: there's a doctor that used to practice there (don't know if he still does) who was notorious for outrageous overcharging. I was unfortunately referred to him for a serious medical issue in 2006, and while the treatment was good, the billing procedures and amounts were scandalous.
I was delirious with fever when admitted, and was never informed of fees until I was discharged almost a week later. Fees were at least triple what other private practices charge, sometimes 5-6 times (never mind the public hospitals). I can't go into detail, but this incident forced my employer to switch insurance companies.
I'm glad the HK govt finally seems set to take some action.
oxymoron19
@lauyukeung
How can one make a racist and discriminatory comment on his OWN race? No oxymoron wordplay is intended so therefore your logic is flaw. Just because I'm not a patriot ? The best you can do is to be objective and agree to disagree. Mysteries abound. Indeed.
Hollander323
layhoma wrote : "Allow me to make a generalization. Chinese are extreme opportunists that exploit loopholes in people and the law to maximize their profits in the expense of others without leaving a shred of ethics that keeps their conscience in check"
what a racist and discriminative comment by layhoma?
royachina
Ridiculous!!! That doctor should be ashamed of himself!!! I will never go there!
donniemcm
Next time that you will need an expensive emergency intervention, just go to any private hospital, do the surgery, and when paying tell them they never told you how expensive it was and that you will have chosen somewhere else. Make a fuss and see how much you can bargain, if it's not enough pretend to walk away and make a fuss in the news.
danielcg
I had moe or less the same treatment at the HK Sanitorium Hospital 2 years ago and the charge was below HK$3,000.
tfung
Seriously.. So if the patient was told that it will cost her $10,655 before, she would not have done the whatever it was to fix her foot? It seems like it was pretty serious if her foot required 8 stitches.. would she have walked out with her foot bleeding and tried to just make do? I really don't think so...
mh10
I see no reason why she refused to pay. I also don't understand why she was not sent to the public hospital at the first place.
benny.kam.37
Will she do the same in the US if she knows that she is not under insurance coverage?
Yes it is expensive to have treatment at a PRIVATE hospital! Can't afford it? Go to a public hospital.
Don't tell me this woman is so stupid and could not tell the differences including charges of the different hospitals!
Shame on those who got great treatment and try hard to escape from paying for the service!
jackblack323
As the patient explained in the article: "They did not tell me the expected fee. If they had warned me of the price I would definitely not have had it done."
The issue here is transparency of information in the Hong Kong private medical system. There's a further issue: the doctor offered to reduce the fee immediately, indicating he or she knew it was overpriced. The fee was not stated, and when the patient complained, the doctor tried to bargain as though medical treatment was a commodity like a case of milk-powder tins.
max.millian.121
What is the exchange rate between HK$ to £? Seems very reasonable to me compared to private hospital in London, infact I think the London doctor will not get out of bed for less.
jackblack323
Comparing apples and oranges, I'm afraid. Different countries have different laws and insurance regulations, meaning that the cost of medical care varies due to factors unrelated to medicine.
My sibling is a surgeon in the USA, and tells me that insurance in that country has an overwhelming effect on medical treatment. Equipment is overdesigned and overpriced simply to avoid malpractice lawsuits, for example. There are many, many more.
Different costs between different locales have made certain countries focus on "medical tourism" as a revenue-earner. Currency-exchange rates aren't the main factor here.
oxymoron19
Sorry to hear about your unfortunate incident (your injury but not your wallet). Since you are covered by company insurance, it doesn't make a dent to your feelings much less your bank account. FYI the government does not have the jurisdiction nor the will to get get involved with private hospitals. Top government officials and top directors/chairman/lady of notable private hospitals rub shoulders, and oh why am I not surprised ? I know a friend who used to work as a PA for a chairman of a huge company who occasionally host lavish dinner parties with many top govern officials. Not ironic at all that this company so happens to have interests/involvements in private hospitals and in turn these govern officials have an interest in what they serve on dinner plates. Alright so the latter part is a bit satirical but I think you get the meaning.
jackblack323
Thanks, but unfortunately, the overcharging was so egregious that it did, in fact, impact my wallet.
My boss summoned representatives of the insurance company and I sat in on the meeting. Their attitude is that they have no opinion on the amount of the bill. None. This is a major insurance company in HK.
Considering I was financially liable for a portion, and was literally paying for decisions made by referring physicians when I was terrified, sick, and delirious from fever. I almost lost my temper. I asked if they would pay a million-dollar claim to lance a boil.
They replied: "Yes."
The doctor involved knew the system and worked it to his advantage. And yes, my bank account was dented. His overcharging was so avaricious it broke all the limits.
mrgoodkat
I think it's pretty clear that gkuhl's remark was meant to be ironic.
gkuhl
Read again and add question marks, because my statements are rhetorical questions.
royachina
Do you think stitches should be expensive?
donniemcm
Well I am not qualified to tell that those 8 stitches are expensive. Nor I am to tell that giving birth in a for almost free in public hospital (well subsidized by the government), or in a private hospital that charges 50k HKD (say Union) or another one 100k HKD (say Matilda) is expensive or not.
The point here is that when you go to a private hospital they decide on how to charge it.
There is bottled water that cost 5hkd or some 20hkd. You can say that those selling at a price you consider are thiefs but this is business and just don't buy if you are not happy with it or the service it provides.
It's harsh to say this but this is fact.
Just look at hospitalization in US, they won't take you if you don't have money or an insurance.
honger
Is Adventist a hospital or something else?
royachina
Seriously, stitches are not supposed to be expensive... Even if the cut was deep or huge, she could have walked away... Just wrap the foot up and leave... it's not a big deal at all!
Now if she had broken bones - that could have been more difficult... but a deep cut... come on!!!

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